His condition was reported last night to be 'not grave'. Giorgio Caturelli, chief cardiologist at Venice's main hospital, said Mr Heseltine was 'awake, lucid, aware of where he is, and able to chat pleasantly'.
Lord McAlpine, the former Tory party treasurer who lives in Venice, told Channel Four News last night that he had met his old friend over the weekend - but insisted they had not discussed Asil Nadir. He said: 'Why should we discuss Mr Nadir; go to a beautiful place like Venice and discuss a sleazy fellow like Mr Nadir?'
However, the Conservative crisis over party funding and the growing threat posed to the ministerial career of Michael Mates - Mr Heseltine's campaign manager during the 1990 leadership contest - is bound to have caused deep concern to Mr Heseltine.
Colleagues were stunned by the news. The Prime Minister said in Copenhagen, where he was attending the EC summit: 'All jobs are stressful, but Michael is very tough, very fit and I am sure he will soon be back.'
Mr Major told Sky News: 'I have sent Michael a message. I hope he will soon be well and will soon be back at work.' Mr Heseltine, 60, also received a message from John Smith, who suffered a heart attack when he was shadow Chancellor in 1988.
While Mr Smith was back at work three months later, and was elected Labour leader last year, any residual and slender chance of Mr Heseltine becoming Tory leader will have been dashed by the new-found doubt over his health.
However, Mr Heseltine's more pressing hope will be that he can return to the Department of Trade and Industry, where he wants to generate a coherent approach to industrial policy. He is understood to have told Mr Major that he wants to stay in his post until the next election.
Mr Heseltine was due to have wound up tonight's Commons debate on Nadir's funding of the Tory party. His absence could provide the first illustration of the hole left on the government frontbench.Reuse content